1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kent (kingdom)
KENT, one of the kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon Britain, the dimensions of which seem to have corresponded with those of the present county (see below). According to tradition it was the first part of the country occupied by the invaders, its founders, Hengest and Horsa, having been employed by the British king Vortigern against the Picts and Scots. Their landing, according to English tradition, took place between 450-455, though in the Welsh accounts the Saxons are said to have arrived in 428 (cf. Hist. Britt. 66). According to The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which probably used some lost list of Kentish kings, Hengest reigned 455-488, and was succeeded by his son Aesc (Oisc), who reigned till 512; but little value can be attached to these dates. Documentary history begins with Aethelberht, the great-grandson of Aesc, who reigned probably 560-616. He married Berhta, daughter of the Frankish king Haribert, or Charibert, an event which no doubt was partly responsible for the success of the mission of Augustine, who landed in 597. Aethelberht was at this time supreme over all the English kings south of the Humber. On his death in 616 he was succeeded by his son Eadbald, who renounced Christianity and married his stepmother, but was shortly afterwards converted by Laurentius, the successor of Augustine. Eadbald was succeeded in 640 by his son Erconberht, who enforced the acceptance of Christianity throughout his kingdom, and was succeeded in 664 by his son Ecgbert, the latter again by his brother Hlothhere in 673. The early part of Hlothhere’s reign was disturbed by an invasion of Aethelred of Mercia. He issued a code of laws, which is still extant, together with his nephew Eadric, the son of Ecgbert, but in 685 a quarrel broke out between them in which Eadric called in the South Saxons. Hlothhere died of his wounds, and was succeeded by Eadric, who, however, reigned under two years.
The death of Eadric was followed by a disturbed period, in which Kent was under kings whom Bede calls “dubii vel externi.” An unsuccessful attempt at conquest seems to have been made by the West Saxons, one of whose princes, Mul, brother of Ceadwalla, is said to have been killed in 687. There is some evidence for a successful invasion by the East Saxon king Sigehere during the same year. A king named Oswine, who apparently belonged to the native dynasty, seems to have obtained part of the kingdom in 688. The other part came in 689 into the hands of Swefheard, probably a son of the East Saxon king Sebbe. Wihtred, a son of Ecgbert, succeeded Oswine about 690, and obtained possession of the whole kingdom before 694. From him also we have a code of laws. At Wihtred’s death in 725 the kingdom was divided between his sons Aethelberht, Eadberht and Alric, the last of whom appears to have died soon afterwards. Aethelberht reigned till 762; Eadberht, according to the Chronicle, died in 748, but some doubtful charters speak of him as alive in 761-762. Eadberht was succeeded by his son Eardwulf, and he again by Eanmund, while Aethelberht was succeeded by a king named Sigered. From 764-779 we find a king named Ecgbert, who in the early part of his reign had a colleague named Heaberht. At this period Kentish history is very obscure. Another king named Aethelberht appears in 781, and a king Ealhmund in 784, but there is some reason for suspecting that Offa annexed Kent about this time. On his death (796) Eadberht Praen made himself king, but in 798 he was defeated and captured by Coenwulf, who made his own brother Cuthred king in his place. On Cuthred’s death in 807 Coenwulf seems to have kept Kent in his own possession. His successors Ceolwulf and Beornwulf likewise appear to have held Kent, but in 825 we hear of a king Baldred who was expelled by Ecgbert king of Wessex. Under the West Saxon dynasty Kent, together with Essex, Sussex and Surrey, was sometimes given as a dependent kingdom to one of the royal family. During Ecgbert’s reign it was entrusted to his son Aethelwulf, on whose accession to the throne of Wessex, in 839, it was given to Aethelstan, probably his son, who lived at least till 851. From 855 to 860 it was governed by Aethelberht son of Aethelwulf. During the last years of Alfred’s reign it seems to have been entrusted by him to his son Edward. Throughout the 9th century we hear also of two earls, whose spheres of authority may have corresponded to those of the two kings whom we find in the 8th century. The last earls of whom we have any record were the two brothers Sigehelm and Sigewulf, who fell at the Holm in 905 when the Kentish army was cut off by the Danes, on Edward the Elder's return from his expedition into East Anglia. At a later period Kent appears to have been held, together with Sussex, by a single earl.
The internal organization of the kingdom of Kent seems to have been somewhat peculiar. Besides the division into West Kent and East Kent, which probably corresponds with the kingdoms of the 8th century, we find a number of lathes, apparently administrative districts under reeves, attached to royal villages. In East Kent there were four of these, namely, Canterbury, Eastry, Wye and Lymne, which can be traced back to the 9th century or earlier. In the 11th century we hear of two lathes in West Kent, those of Sutton and Aylesford.
The social organization of the Kentish nation was wholly different from that of Mercia and Wessex. Instead of two “ noble " classes we find only one, called at first eorlcund, later as in Wessex, gesithcund. Again below the ordinary freeman we find three varieties of persons called laetas, probably freedmen, to whom we have nothing analogous in the other kingdoms. Moreover the wergeld of the ceorl, or ordinary freeman, was two or three times as great as that of the same class in Wessex and Mercia, and the same difference of treatment is found in all the compensations and fines relating to them. It is not unlikely that the peculiarities of Kentish custom observable in later times, especially with reference to the tenure of land, are connected with these characteristics. An explanation is probably to be obtained from a statement of Bede—that the settlers in Kent belonged to a different nationality from those who founded the other kingdoms, namely the Jutes (q.v.).
See Bede, Historiae ecclesiasticae, edited by C. Plummer (Oxford, 1896); Two of the Saxon Chronicles, edited by J. Earle and C. Plummer (Oxford, 1892–1899); W. de G. Birch, Cartularium Saxonicum (London, 1885–1889); B. Seebohm, Tribal Custom in Anglo-Saxon Law (London, 1902); H. M. Chadwick, Studies on Anglo-Saxon Institutions (Cambridge, 1905); and T. W. Shore, Origin of the Anglo-Saxon Race (London, 1906). (F. G. M. B.)